The story opens up with Miriam Levine Bing returning to her childhood home in the old West End of Boston. This is 1921 and she is twenty-one, having left her abusive husband, holding her two-year old son. An unusual occurrence in those days for a woman to leave her husband.
The West End was a fascinating diverse multi-ethnic community that the Boston Redevelopment Authority deemed to be a slum, so it was razed in the 1950s. Much has been written in city planning circles about this as an example of really bad redevelopment (see Jane Jacobs’ book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities). There is a devoted group of old West Enders whose families grew up there. The West End Museum has photos of the early days, going back to the turn of the twentieth century when my fictional family moved there. I hope to create a video trailer for Beguiled right in the Museum.
I’ve tried to depict the way neighbors looked out for one another in the West End – Eastern European Jews, Italians, Irish, and even Germans during World War I, based on interviews with people who lived there or whose parents and grandparents lived there. Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) was a West Ender and has written about his love for the neighborhood.
The depiction of this community differs a great deal from stories of Jews in the Lower East Side of NYC in those early days when immigrants were packed into horrible housing with no ventilation and outside plumbing. Where many got ill and died. See the Resource section in Beguiled, especially Jacob Riis’s book with photos of the degradation of the people. Jewish children, especially, were always beleaguered by their counterparts in the Irish and Italian parts of the Lower East Side.
The West End is remembered differently… always fondly. This is the setting for my fictional Levine family from 1900 – 1922.